By Malia Sio

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Sept. 28) - Two species of dolphin and what is believed to be a beaked whale have been officially sighted for the first time in Samoan waters.

Sightings of Rough Tooth dolphins and Bottlenose dolphins have been recorded by a team of marine biologists who are conducting a survey of marine mammal species in Samoa.

Rough Tooth dolphins are distinguished from other dolphin species by their head, snout and color pattern. They feed on small fish, squid and pelagic octopus.

The Bottlenose dolphin has a long spout like a beak, which protrudes from twelve to twenty four inches. This dolphin is fast in speed and has a long diving range compared to other dolphins. They normally feed on Cuttlefish, Mollusks and small fry.

Though many have reported sighting these two mammal types in recent years, this is the first time an official sighting has been made.

The other new sighting is an unidentified whale believed to be a Beaked whale, which is very uncommon here.

Beaked whales are the least known family of whales, which inhibit oceanic waters of greater than 200 hundred meters in depth and are thought to be the deepest and longest diving of all marine mammals. They feed primarily on deep-water squid and fish and as such are an integral part of the deep-water ecosystem.

The marine mammal team of Simon Walsh, of Southern Cross University; Carlos Olavarria, of Auckland University; and Juney Ward, of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment; held a public seminar on their findings. This was held at the National University of Samoa conference room.

They located the new types of mammal while undergoing a two-week assessment survey of marine mammals in Samoan waters.

The Southern Cross University in collaboration with other overseas agencies and the Samoa Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment along with the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture led the survey.

The funds came from the South Pacific Regional Environment Program, Australian Environment Ministry, and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

Pouvave Fainuulelei, of the Fisheries Division, said:" The information is important on the status of dolphins and whales in Samoa, especially because of the current problem of Cetacean Long line Interaction."

He added that their office will now have information on the type and number of whales, to establish solutions on this problem of larger fish (whales) feeding on smaller fish (catch).

He also said that at the moment the marine mammals are protected in Samoa and are not facing any major threats.

The main areas of Samoa in which the whale and dolphin sighting occurred were along the coastal Falealupo Peninsula area of Savai'i, Asau, and the areas between the two main islands.

The most common marine mammals found within these areas are the Humpback whales, Short Fin pilot whales, Beaked whales (new), Spinner dolphins, and Rough Tooth dolphins (new).

Another species believed to be found in local waters is the Sperm whale. However, the last sighting of this kind in Samoa was in 2001.

To help assist future research the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is set to give out sheets of different types of marine mammals.

Ms Ward said that would be called a sighting report sheet given to pilots and fishermen.

"They will take these sheets out on their voyages and mark any sighting of any of the different mammals, the date, time and other information which will be useful for us" she said.

Other initiatives will also be set up based on the outcomes of this research, especially beneficial for education and research purposes.

One is to set up a display board in the Public Library showing different types of marine mammals and information will also be provided.

Another initiative is to soon have Samoan names for all the marine mammals and a task force is to be set up for stranded marine mammals.

Participants in the public seminar also added some future initiatives for the ministry in the area of setting up a marine Aquatic Center in the future.

"There really is a need for this because Samoan children do not even know the different types of mammals found in the sea or much about sea life," one participant said.

September 30, 2003

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